By comparison, Major League Baseball had an abysmal year, with overall attend-ance declining 6.1 percent, 20 of its 30 teams showing drop-offs from 2001, and Milwaukee's attendance plummeting by almost 30 percent.

But that's only the beginning of the minors' success:

Four leagues set all-time attendance records in 2002, including two Class A leagues, the minors' lowest rung. Fans at those games were not paying to see future Hall of Famers, but high school and college players, most of whom will never make it past Class A.

Class AAA Sacramento drew more fans during its season than two major league teams - Montreal and Florida - and did it in 10 fewer games.

A total of 25 teams set franchise records in 2002. The Dayton Dragons, a Class A team in southwest Ohio, has sold out every game in the team's three-year history. The Round Rock Express, a Class AA team in central Texas, drew 670,000 fans, the third time in Round Rock's three years of existence that it broke the all-time AA record.

"And you know something? I don't see any reason why we can't keep drawing like this," says Jay Miller, Round Rock's vice president and general manager, whose team sold 4,500 season tickets in a 7,800-seat ballpark in 2002. "If we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll be fine."

How successful is successful?
Those kinds of attendance figures are eye-grabbers, and not just because they embarrass the major leagues. Attendance drives everything for a minor league team, from concessions to advertising to sponsorships to profit margins. There are no lucrative TV contracts to pick up the slack. Ticket sales account for 45 percent of Durham's revenue, says Habel, and that figure is typical of other successful minor league teams.